Beyond the Old Course: Ballybunion Golf Club is one of Ireland's most complete facilities

Attracting more Americans than any other Irish golf club, Ballybunion has mastered the art of making overseas visitors feel welcome and providing them with the first-class facilities they might hope to find. And the club has accomplished this without sacrificing any of the charm, warmth and friendliness that makes golfing in Ireland such a treat.

For example, not many Irish clubs have a reception desk as you enter the clubhouse to greet you and sort everything out. Modern, spacious and comfortable, the locker rooms, which include a steam room, are five-star, as are the bars, lounges and restaurant, which all have large picture windows affording glorious views of the two great courses and the Atlantic beyond.

And if you fancy hitting a few balls before going out, just stroll a couple of hundred yards down the hill, and there's a full-blown range, short-game area and one of three putting greens.

You might even squeeze in a quick lesson with pro Brian O'Callaghan, who offers specialist instruction in the art of playing the pitch-and-run shot, as well as the secret to golfing in the wind.

36 holes of pure, Irish links golf at Ballybunion

But what puts Ballybunion right on the top of most discerning golfer's wish list are the two spectacular courses -- the Old Course and the Cashen Course.

When Tom Watson visited back in 1982, there was only the Old, which he played the week before capturing the fourth of his five Open Championships. Talking to the media after his victory, he lavished so much praise on Ballybunion that it made headlines around the world. The club wasn't slow to exploit this marketing opportunity and golfers, especially Americans, soon followed in Watson's spiked footprints.

Their dollars have helped pay for the upgrade in the facilities and the construction in 1984 of the new Cashen Course. Because the Old Course receives so much attention, it would be an easy mistake to overlook the lovely Cashen. Designed by Trent Jones and named after the adjacent river, the course occupies a truly spectacular peninsular with the mighty Atlantic on one side and the gentle river on the other.

The towering dunes are as big as cathedrals, while the canyons that weave between them provide both the fairways and welcome shelter from the inevitable wind. Although in reality, there is plenty of room, the close proximity of the really thick stuff causes many a grip to tighten and palm to sweat.

Ballybunion Golf Club: The verdict

In truth, the Cashen is more forgiving than it appears with most of the bounces -- especially near the greens -- being more help than hindrance. There aren't, perhaps, enough classic pitch-and-run opportunities as one might hope to find, but the Cashen is definitely top quality and has recently benefited from a few tweaks at the experienced hands of famous English architect Martin Hawtree.

The Old Course, too, has undergone some improving alterations to a couple of tee boxes and a few of the bunkers, but it remains as majestic as ever. Once you've avoided the cemetery at the first and calamity at the tough, uphill second, it's a joyous roller coaster around the dunes punctuated by some breathtaking holes by the sea. Fabulous and quite unforgettable.

After golf in Ballybunion

Opposite the course are several modest hotels and a number of bed and breakfast opportunities. Or just a two-minute taxi ride away is the little town of Ballybunion itself, complete with a statue of President Bill Clinton, who is a regular visitor.

Stay in town at one of several cozy hotels, and you can walk south along the wide, sandy beach beneath the course, enjoy a spectacular cliff-top stroll to the north or, if you're really brave, go swimming or surfing.

There's a beach exclusively for women, another for men and a third reserved for nuns!

Getting There

Ballybunion is on the south-west coast of Ireland, about an hour-and-a-half from Shannon Airport, which serves New York (JFK and Newark), Boston and Toronto. Dublin Airport is about three-and-a-half away takes non-stop flights from New York (JFK and Newark), Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto, Montreal and more.

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.

Related Links

More from the author
7 Min Read
August 31, 2017
You can ditch the Caribbean crowds at the exclusive Abaco Club, one of the top luxury golf getaways in the Bahamas.
3 Min Read
August 4, 2017
There may be no more exclusive stay-and-play in the British Isles than the opulent Skibo Castle and Carnegie Club in the Scottish Highlands.
4 Min Read
October 15, 2014
Most of the 500-plus courses in Scotland comfortably qualify as "old" and most are comparatively obscure, and so finding a few that are both presented no problem for veteran golf scribe Clive Agran. Selecting the best, however, demanded so much intellectual effort that a second glass of whisky was required.
4 Min Read
August 22, 2014
The farther north you travel in Scotland, the fewer people you see and the wilder the scenery is. But even in the remotest parts there is golf.
4 Min Read
July 10, 2014
There are approximately 1,500 golf courses in England, but which are the best? From West Sussex to Royal Cinque Ports to Wentworth, here are Clive Agran's top 10.
1 Min Read
June 17, 2014
Set among 850 acres of Perthshire countryside, Gleneagles will host the 2014 Ryder Cup. But while it's home to three superb golf courses, Gleneagles has so much more to offer. Since its doors first swung open in the middle of the Roaring '20s, the impressive five-star hotel has entertained royalty and celebrities alike. And even though times have changed, the same single-minded determination to have fun is still at the heart of the Gleneagles experience, Clive Agran writes.
4 Min Read
September 14, 2023
Here's a look at the history of golf handicaps, how they are calculated, and where you can get one.
5 Min Read
September 13, 2023
Puttr, a new technologically-advanced putting mat, could help you make more putts on the golf course.
4 Min Read
September 11, 2023
Which of the 58 golf resorts in the Caribbean do you dream of visiting for your next tropical winter golf getaway?
3 Min Read
September 4, 2023
Golfers who love to walk should choose their footwear carefully.
Now Reading
Beyond the Old Course: Ballybunion Golf Club is one of Ireland's most complete facilities